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According to one online index of articles on Jewish Studies, there are seventy eight articles on Psalms 8, which is eight

more than has been deemed absolutely necessary1, and that does not take into account the numerous books that also deal with the subject. It is clear that there is no shortage of scholarly interest in this psalm, and this interest is not accidental. Psalms 8 provides a unique balance of thematic clarity (Man, God, nature) and linguistic opacity (verses 2-4), making its investigation easy enough to be doable, but challenging enough to be worth the time and effort to do so. In this paper, we will advance yet another interpretation of this psalm. First, we will present a possible solution to the difficulties presented by verses 2-3 and the unclear translation of verse 6. Having accomplished that, we will look to the unique structure of the psalm to provide the key to its interpretation. Psalms 8: .. , . , ,, , , - ; ; ; - , , ,. , - -- , . ' 2A .., , - , . ; 2b --., , , ,., , , , , 3a :, ; - . , , 3b .. , ,, , , 3c -- , ; ; , , ; ; ;-, , 4A . ; ,., , , 4b ; ; , -, , - 5A . . ; , , , ,.. - ; 5b ;., , ,, 6a . , . . 6b ; ,. ;, , , , , 7A ., - , 7b ;. ., , ; 8A .,. ,. 8b ;., , . ,., , , 9A

cf. Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15

.., , , , 9b . ; ; - , , ,. , - : , . ' 10 The main obstacle to understanding this psalm is verses 2-3, which have flummoxed scholars as long as anyone can remember2. The first difficulty is the verb in 2b, whose meaning is unclear and debated, and will depend on how we interpret its context. The main difficulties, however, come from verse three, which imply some causal relationship between 3a and 3b, and then 3b and 3c. A typical translation of the Masoretic Text here will read from the mouths of babes and sucklings, you have established strength on account of your enemies, to put at rest both foe and avenger.3 That leaves us with a number of questions. Who are these babes and sucklings and why do their mouths help God with establishing strength? What kind of strength is being drawn here, and for what purpose is it being used? What does from the mouths... come to add, if no action that is usually done orally (talking, singing, etc.) seems to be done here? Is it from the body part itself, somehow? Furthermore, who are these enemies, foes and avengers that God draws strength from the mouths of babes and sucklings to defeat? If this is a metaphor, what is it representing? Many answers have been presented to these questions, few of which have been found to be totally satisfactory. The problem is that the text itself is contradictory. According to the reading presented by the Masoretic text, any explanation must satisfactorily account for the fact the source of God's strength is the babes and the sucklings, a group which seems to represent the very opposite of strength. Both of the terms used here are used throughout the Bible to denote an especially helpless and weak victim that evokes more than a fair share of pity.4 Any answer, then, will be paradoxical by its very nature. Some scholars have no problem with that. Craigies's translation, for example, proposes

3 4

It seems to have become scholarly tradition, when attempting to explicate Psalm 8, to complain about how difficult verses 2-3 are. Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50 (Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004 ), 105 John Goldingay, Psalms, Vol. 1: Psalms 1-41 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 156 see for example Lamentations 2:11

that it is the purity of the sounds made by the ., , , ., , that represents the main source of God's strength5. The problem with such approaches is that they require the reader to insert what should be the most important part of the verse6. The verse says nothing about the purity of such sounds, nor implies any such thing7, and Craigie brings no source for his assertion that ., , , ., , necessarily conjures up images of purity. Yet to Craigie, that is the main point of the verse. Any answer that attempts to explain this imagery of ., , , ., , must extract meaning from the image itself and its context, not assumptions applied to the imagery. Yet, saying that God draws strength from a group which implies weakness necessitates imputes extra to the text. On those grounds, other scholars, emend the breakup of the text so that verse two ends after" ; ; -", and verse three begins with ; " and ends with ., , , ". Now, the verses read like this: ; ; ; - , , ,. , - -- , . ' 2 .., , - , . ; 3a -., , , ,., , , , , 3B ; , ; : - . , , 4a . , ,, , , 4b Reading with this emendation presents both structural advantages and literary advantages over reading it in its present form. Structurally, this emendation does two things. Firstly, it frees up verse 2 to be alone and exactly parallel to its repetition at the end of the psalm. It also makes the psalm uniform in structure, with two poetic lines in each verse, as opposed to the Masoretic Text, which gives verse three a third poetic line8. This emendation also poses a translation advantage by linking ., , , , , ., , , "to the verb " . As opposed to before, when the mouths of the babes and sucklings were not linked to any action that was oral in nature, they are now the subject of the verb " , which can
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Craigie, 107 ,, in Rabbinic terms 7 The group the ., , , ., , are parallel to, the . , , , cannot be said to have any implications of insincerity 8 Judah Kraut, The Birds and the Babes: The Structure and Meaning of Psalm 8 Jewish Quarterly Review 100 (Winter 2010) 13

translate to recite or sing9. Thus, the newly constructed verse three now translates as You, whose splendor is recited from the mouths of babes and sucklings. Secondly, the babes and nurslingsare now no longer forced to serve as the source of God's strength, instead being viewed as singing of God's glory. Besides for enabling us to read the text without interpolations, this interpretation is more in line with themes that occur throughout Psalms. There is precedent for God's glory being declared by different elements of creation; Psalm 148, for example, calls upon the heavenly hosts ( ;, - - , ) , the hills, animals and plant life (., , - ,, , ; ; - ., , ;. , , ; ; ; - , ) to praise God, and logic dictates that babies can be called upon to do so as well. With all these factors taken into consideration, the emended reading seems preferable. However, while the text presented by this emendation is more structurally and literarily sound, questions remain as to the meaning of this specific metaphor. Why does the psalmist choose babes and sucklings to be the mouthpieces of God's splendor, as opposed to any other creation? What idea is he trying to convey with such imagery? We can look to the next verse to further refine our understanding of the imagery of babes and sucklings. Verse four reads: . , ,, , , ; , ; : - . , , ". Here, the main characters of the verse are the . , , ", as opposed to verse three, where it is the ., , , ., , ". Their roles in creation are contrasted. The role of the ., , , ., , is to recite the glory of God, while the . , , are fated to , translated as stilling, or silencing, which may serve as an antithesis to . " 10 Accounts of God's glory come from the ., , , ., , , but he establishes his glory on account of or against ( ) his enemies ( , ; ), the . , , . In general, we would say God is allied with the ., , , ., , and opposed to their direct opposite, the . , , . What differentiates the two groups? What causes the divine attitude to diverge so dramatically?

Sarna, Nahum M., Songs of the Heart: An Introduction to the Book of Psalms. (New York: Schocken, 1993) 228 Gert Thomas Marthinus Prinsloo, Polarity As Dominant Textual Strategy In Psalm 8, Old Testament Essays 8,3 (1995) 380

It can be proposed that the distinguishing feature of ., , , ., , is their total lack of independence. They have no power on their own, totally dependent on others to survive. Such a connotation fits with the pity afforded to them elsewhere in the Bible. Thus the imagery of ., ,

., , , represents people who, like a baby to its mother, are totally dependent on God and submissive to His will, as they are weak and know they lack any better alternative. It is those people who sing the glory of God, who God views positively, and God by whom God chooses to be glorified by. However, those who act unlike the ., , , ., , , and rebel against Him, and defy His will, refusing to submit, are His enemies, and God will use His strength to silence them. Thus, the point of these two verses is to contrast two opposing attitudes of man to God, one of submission, and one of rebellion, and to describe the importance of submission and the perils of rebellion. To prove this point, the psalmist continues in this vein: 4a , ; ; , , ; ; ;-, , - 4b ; ,., , , . 5A ; , -, , - ; 5b . ; , , , ,.. - ; . When I see your Heavens, the work of your fingers the moon and stars you fixed firm What is man that you should note him and the human creature, that you pay him heed,11 These verses extend the theme of the man's submission to God by describing his insignificance when confronted with God and His creation. When man looks up at the heavens and marvels at God's creation, he is overcome by a feeling of his lowliness and weakness as opposed to the majesty and infinite power of God. He sees the heavens, the moon and the stars, products of God's handiwork, and he wonders why it is that God, such a powerful being, would even bother at all with him, such an insignificant and pitiful figure.


Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms, (New York: W.W Norton and Company, 2007), 23

From these last two verses, we can begin to see that the main concern of this psalm up until this point has been to convey an image of man who is weak and insignificant must be submissive to God. It opened up by calling God , . , our master, and exclaimed ; ; - , , ,. , - , How majestic your name in all the earth! God rules over the totality of creation, the implication being there is no room for man's arrogance. The use of the word pair of ; ; and ., , conveys a similar idea of the totality of God's rule.12 It then compares the attitudes of the submissive ., , , ., , and the rebellious . , , , and their respective places in creation, siding firmly with the submission of the ., , ., , , . The psalmist then moves on to describe what should be at the root of such submission: a contemplation of creation leading to a realization of man's utter insignificance when compared to God's omnipotence13. The second obstacle to interpretation of Psalm 8 is the meaning of the word ., , in verse 6: ;., , ,, 6A , . . 6B

In order to understand the full import of the phrase ., , , , we need to identify what is meant by .,, here. Does it mean, as the Vulgate and others translate, angels? Or does it mean, as Aquila and others translate God, or even, as some modern scholars translate gods. Anderson argues on behalf of the angels translation that the Psalmist was at pains to stress the infinite greatness of God and the comparative insignificance of man. The first alternative, (i.e., translating as God) would


Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic, 2011), 149 To be fair, our adjusted reading gets rid of the direct parallelism between the word pair, which is a possible advantage of the Masoretic Reading. Maimonides, when describing how man should come to love and fear God through a contemplation of creation, quotes our psalm as a prooftext. Relevant quote: What is the way to love and fear God? Whenever one contemplates the great wonders of God's works and creations, and one sees that they are a product of a wisdom that has no bounds or limits, one will immediately love, laud and glorify [God] with an immense passion to know the Great Name, like David has said, "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God". When one thinks about these matters one will feel a great fear and trepidation, and one will know that one is a low and insignificant creation, with hardly an iota of intelligence compared to that of God, like David has said, 'When I observe Your heavens, the work of Your fingers...what is man, that You are heedful of him?' -Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah, 2:2

have the effect of practically contradicting the essence of verses 3-4, and therefore the comparison must be between man and the heavenly beings.14 Anderson's point is problematic, as it seems at odds with the way the psalm continues.

; ,. ;, , , , , 7A ., - , 7B ;. ., , ; 8A .,. ,. 8B ;., , . ,., , , 9A .., , , , 9B

The succeeding three verses, not to mention the second half of verse six, all go on to describe in great detail the dominion of man over nature. If we are to reject translating ., , as angels because it contradicts the first half of the psalm, where man is portrayed as insignificant and weak, then what do we do with the second half of the psalm? Indeed, Craigie thinks the angels translation was prompted by modesty, for it may have seemed rather extravagant to claim that mankind is only a little less than God. It seems that with the exception of theological discomfort, there is little compelling reason to translate ., , as angels. Having rejected that possibility, what about the translation of ., , as gods, referring to some kind of heavenly tribunal? This possibility necessitates a third party being added to God and Man as the main characters in this psalm, with the psalm read in this manner: The first half says that God is great, and Man is insignificant. Then in the middle it says that Man is a little less than these other, lower gods. Then the second half shows how Man dominates his environment, and it finishes up with God is great. In this reading, the first half and the second half are totally unrelated, and the middle only serves to transition to the second half.

Anderson, A. A, The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981),103

There are, however, a number of reasons to say the two halves are parallel, and meant to convey that man's dominion over nature is similar in character to God's dominion over man. Firstly, the adjectives used to describe man's privileged position in creation, . . , parallel the adjectives used to describe God's rule over of heaven and earth, ,. , and . . These adjectives are all expressions of monarchy and dominion, expressing the notion that the modes of dominion of man over nature and God over man are similar.15 Furthermore, both man and God are described as ruling over a totality ( ) of creation. God rules over ; ; - , and as for humanity, , - . This further indicates the similarity in modes of dominion. If the psalm had been, in 6a, comparing Man with some lower class of divinity, these parallels could not be drawn. A lower divinity cannot be said to be ruling over the earth as a monarch. Nor can this lesser god be said to rule over a totality of creation. Those attributes can only belong to a monotheistic God.16 Thus, the word ., , must be referring to God himself, and the message of the verse is that man is just a little bit lower than God himself, having been given powers comparable to that of God.17 At first blush, this verse and the verses to follow are a jarring reversal from the theme of the first half of the psalm, now promoting man's glory and majesty instead of describing his weakness and insignificance. It is for that reason some translations insert the word but at the beginning of this verse, to express this as a sudden, total reversal18. However, the transition is smoother than it may seem provided one reads with the eyes of a reader previously unfamiliar with the text. First of all, the last verse of the first half lays the groundwork for what is to come. The psalmist exclaims upon contemplating the heavens, . ; , , , ,.. - ; ; ; , -, , - " , What is man that you should note
15 16 17


Sarna, 150 Or at the very least, a Monolatrous God. The change in divine nomenclature may reflect a difference in the aspect of God that Man is similar to, and not necessarily a change in identity. This makes sense, as the powers spoken of here may reflect the giving of the ., , . ; ; in Genesis 1:27. Craigie, 105

him, and the human creature, that you pay him heed?. The psalmist acknowledges his insignificance in the face of God, but also implies that despite his insignificance, God indeed does note him and pay him heed. The verse is not meant merely as a statement of man's ontology, that man is by his very nature unworthy of God's attention, but as an expression of astonishment that despite man's weak and insignificant nature, God does still take note of him. While still working within a view of weak and insignificant man, the Psalmist begins to transition to a different view of man altogether, which continues in the next verse. Next, the verb , when read through the eyes of a first time reader, is not a verb that would seem to herald a promotion of humanity. On the contrary, a first time reader may reasonably expect that it comes to further emphasize the weakness of man. Obviously, it would fit in with the theme of the insignificance of man that we have encountered thus far, and the reader can reasonably expect that theme to continue. Despite the observation that we made about the implication of the previous verse, the other time we encounter something similar to the question of this verse, ,.. - --' , - ;: . "in Psalm 144, it is followed up with a statement further emphasizing the transience and insignificance of man: " ,, , ; . ; ; ,.. " , Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow. Furthermore, we have precedent for pessimistic statements regarding man elsewhere in the Bible, and a reader could reasonably expect the verse that starts with to be part of that genre. Perhaps God has made him less than animals, in line with Ecclesiastes 3:19 ( , , , , , - , .. ; ?) Perhaps less than dirt or ashes, in line with Genesis 18:27 ( ; , , ?)The next word, , , limits the extent of , but does not yet completely dispel the notion that this verse is coming to further describe man's insignificance. A first time reader can still reasonably assume that the verse will say man is a little lower than animals or dust. However, starting at this point, the image of man is beginning to be rehabilitated in the eyes of the reader. , limits the extent of , which raises the

importance of man in the expectation of the reader. Before, he was less than whatever will follow; now, he is only a little less. Now, the Psalmist names what man is a little less than: ., , . Instead of being something lowly, which would then in turn further emphasize man's insignificance, the verse says that it is ., , that man was made a little less than. In the span of three words, the reader goes through a multistage transition between two views of man. First, he sees , and views man as extremely insignificant when contrasted God's omnipotence. Then he sees , , and he now views man as less insignificant than previously thought. Then, when confronted with the unexpected image of ., , , and he absorbs that word in isolation, his view transitions to see man as extremely significant, on the level of God. However, his mind quickly snaps back to view the phrase in its totality, saying man is not equal to this divine being, but a little less. The practical upshot of such a transition is that it enables the psalmist to convey the full extent of two seemingly contradictory concepts simultaneously; that of God's power and omnipotence and that of Man's power and dominion over nature. Without the first stage of the transition, where man views himself as extremely insignificant in comparison to God, the third stage, where man is elevated to extreme significance by being compared to God, loses its rhetorical power by not conveying the supreme power of what man is being compared to. Without a transition between the two ideas, as in stage two, the mind will not be able to get around the seeming jarring contradiction. Without the third stage, we go on thinking that man is completely worthless and insignificant. And without the final stage, where man is snapped back to be just below divinity, the first stage entirely loses its validity, which would mean the comparison of Man to God is functionally meaningless, and the entire edifice falls apart. Each element of the transition is absolutely necessary to the worldview the verse comes to promote. If we broaden our view and look at the psalm as a whole, we will notice a similar transition

taking place, from man's insignificance in the face of God's omnipotence, to a transitory stage, to man's divinely given power over nature, and back to God's omnipotence. The psalm opens up with a one verse declaration of God's dominion over Earth ( ; ; - , , ,. , - -- , . '). The next three verses describe the virtues of submission to God (., , , ,., , , , , .., , - , . ; ), the perils of rebellion against the omnipotent God (. , ,, , , :, ; - . , , ), and the majesty of creation ( ; ,., , , , ; ; , , ; ; ;-,, ). These three verses can be labeled God's power and man's weakness and insignificance. The next verse ( . ; , , , ,.. - ; ; ; , -, , - .) focuses on man's insignificance, yet there is the slight implication that despite the fact that it is irrational, God really does take notice of, frail, weak man. This verse can be labeled Man mostly insignificant, God Powerful, and begins the transition between the two views of man that are expressed in this psalm. The succeeding verse ( , . . ; ., , ,, )continues that transition, starting off implying insignificance of man, then stating a compromised position on man's significance (almost as great as God), then continuing by focusing on man's power alone. This verse can be labeled Man mostly significant, God also significant. Then, the following three verses pick up on the theme of the second half of the previous verse, and focus on man's power. Man is appointed by God as ruler of creation ( ,. ;, , , , , ) , and all is put under his rule (, - , ), which includes dwellers of land (,. ,. . ., , ; ) , sky (., , , ), and sea (., , , , ; ., , . .). These three verses are labeled Man is Powerful, and focus on man's role rather than God's role. Finally, the psalm finished by echoing its beginning, repeating its one verse declaration of God's dominion over the Earth, ; ; - , , ,. , - -- , . '. Like verse six, we see here a transition between conflicting images of man within the structure of the psalm. The first half of the psalm affirms God's glory and man's insignificance with the last verse transitioning into the second half, an accounting of Man's power and significance, which then, in the

last verse, returns again to a statement of God's glory. Without the first half of the psalm detailing God's immense power, the second half of the psalm, comparing Man's power to God's, loses its significance. Without the second half of the psalm, the first half conveys a hopeless image of man. Without the final verse, the message of the second half may overwhelm the first half, leaving us with an arrogant view of man. Each element of the psalm exerts force on its contradictory element, keeping it in check and enabling the psalmist to convey a complex, multilayered view of Jewish Theology and Philosophy that would be impossible to convey otherwise. What is this message? Perhaps it was best articulated by 19th Century Hasidic Rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Bunem of Pryzsucha:

." , ,,, . ,(.,, , ), ' , , , .,, , ," ( , , ) , , , , ,. , , ,,. ,. ,, , , ,, ,," , Every man should have two slips of paper in each pocket, to use them as needed, meaning, when the Evil Urge shows him his greatness and his abundance of learning and good deeds, then he needs to say, I am but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27), and all his good deeds are nothing. But when the evil urge shows him his sins and his lowliness, then he needs to say, For me the world was created and I still have hope

The genius of Rabbi Simcha Bunem's statement is that he does not advocate for one consistent view of man. Nor does he attempt to compromise between the two positions. Rather each position is absolutely necessary within the right context. Sometimes, man thinks himself to be more powerful than he ought to be, and he needs reminding that he is but dust and ashes. Other times, he thinks himself to be totally worthless, and he needs to be reminded of what he ought to be. Both positions must be thought of as equally true, but must be stressed differently based on context. The effect is that each statement pulls on man is opposing directions, and thus keeps man in balance between them. Our psalm accomplishes the same task. Man is presented as insignificant, pulling Rabbi Simcha Bunem's dust

and ashes card out of our pockets. Man is then presented as powerful and dominant, putting away the first card, and pulling out the World was created for me card. No attempt to harmonize the two is made, because that is exactly the point. Man must keep in mind both aspects of his being; his insignificance contrasted to God and his own capacity for power, and allow them to wrestle within him, pulling him in disparate directions. Harmony and synthesis is neither desirable nor necessary, as the answer lies in the struggle between the two. Psalm 8, through its poetic structure, conveys this struggle between the two sides of man, and thereby provides us with a unique philosophy of Man.